Biodiversity is unevenly distributed on Earth and hotspots of biodiversity are often associated with areas that have undergone orogenic activity during recent geological history (i.e. tens of millions of years). Understanding the underlying processes that have driven the accumulation of species in some areas and not in others may help guide prioritization in conservation and may facilitate forecasts on ecosystem services under future climate conditions. Consequently, the study of the origin and evolution of biodiversity in mountain systems has motivated growing scientific interest. Despite an increasing number of studies, the origin and evolution of diversity hotspots associated with the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) remains poorly understood. We review literature related to the diversification of organisms linked to the uplift of the QTP. To promote hypothesis-based research, we provide a geological and palaeoclimatic scenario for the region of the QTP and argue that further studies would benefit from providing a complete set of complementary analyses (molecular dating, biogeographic, and diversification rates analyses) to test for a link between organismic diversification and past geological and climatic changes in this region. In general, we found that the contribution of biological interchange between the QTP and other hotspots of biodiversity has not been sufficiently studied to date. Finally, we suggest that the biological consequences of the uplift of the QTP would be best understood using a meta-analysis approach, encompassing studies on a variety of organisms (plants and animals) from diverse habitats (forests, meadows, rivers), and thermal belts (montane, subalpine, alpine, nival). Since the species diversity in the QTP region is better documented for some organismic groups than for others, we suggest that baseline taxonomic work should be promoted.
Keywords: Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau; biodiversity; biogeography; birds; diversification rates; flowering plants; freshwater diversity; molecular clocks; mountain formation; organismic evolution.
© 2014 The Authors. Biological Reviews published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cambridge Philosophical Society.